Guapo is a force of nature; an infinitely expanding climax, a controlled catastrophe, a sun forged in sound. It can be shaped, controlled, even tamed; but the strain of trying to contain it is etched into the contorted faces and flailing limbs of those brave and foolish men who take it upon themselves to do so.
Dave Smith's monumental drum kit alone provides fitting testimony to Guapo's might. Gripped by maniac rhythms, he expresses the bliss, pain and awe of one who knows that a single beat can mean the difference between eternity and oblivion. Bassist Matt Thompson provides great surges of driving power, keeping Guapo moving ever forwards while, draped over his keyboards as if to keep secret the mysteries of creation, Daniel O'Sullivan converts the light of the stars into sound.
Exposed to Guapo in a confined space, members of an audience will tend to do one of two things. Some will immediately seek the nearest exit, while those left behind turn to face the music, transfixed like prey engulfed in a tiger's roar. How long is a climax? "How long have you got?", replies Guapo, cymbal eyes smiling.
(Otto Amon, 2002)
Guapo are a trio of musicians from London. With this, their sixth album, Guapo have conjured a harrowingly complex and unflinchingly epic piece of work. Heady and hypnotic, driving and relentless, tumultuous and visceral, sonic and serene, the sheer odyssey that is Black Oni encompasses many paradoxes in its massively dynamic scope. Picking up where they left off from their previous Cuneiform Records release Five Suns (2002), the band continue to expand on their palette of dexterous chamber-rock anomalies, modal transcendence, and apocalyptic death marches, and like it's predecessor, Black Oni is one singular piece of music, making it the second record in a trilogy of large-scale symphonic forms. Incorporating elements of prog, avant-garde jazz, kraut-rock, minimalism and a range of folk mediums from Britain to Indonesia, Guapo take their queue from a disparate array of influences including Magma, King Crimson, Boredoms, Goblin, Sun Ra, Charlemagne Palestine, Univers Zero, This Heat, Olivier Messiaen and Popol Vuh. The assembly of Dave Smith's explosive drum assaults, Matt Thompson's brazen and prowling bass throb, and Daniel O'Sullivan's ethereal keyboard reveries telepathically collide in an augury of rich and cinematic musical ceremony. Black Oni is Guapo's most monumentally unreserved offering to date.
Active since 1994, Guapo's original formation was rooted in a post-punk, avant-hardcore approach. With a line-up consisting of Matt Thompson (guitar, vocals), Dave Smith (drums) and Rojer Macoustra (bass), Guapo released several 7" singles on its own label, Power Tool, before releasing its first full-length album, Towers Open Fire, in 1997. Around this time, Guapo embarked on an intensive period of touring throughout mainland Europe, playing on a regular basis in France, the Balkans, Italy and many other countries. Afterwards, the band slimmed down to the core duo of Thompson and Smith for the release of Hirohito (1998) on the French label Pandemonium Records. By now, Guapo's music had taken on a far more experimental hue, incorporating electronics, sampling and turntables into the rock palette to create a wild collage of densely woven noise that still left room for quieter, more contemplative pieces. This approach was continued, albeit with more conventional instrumentation, on the collaborative improvised album Death Seed, recorded with touring partners Ruins and Caroline Kraabel and John Edwards (of the saxophone / double bass duo Shock Exchange).
Late 2001 saw the band expand back to a trio - the band's current line-up - with the addition of keyboardist Daniel O'Sullivan; O'Sullivan leads a string-based ensemble, Miasma & The Carousel of Headless Horses, that Smith also plays drums in (the band incidentally are about to release their debut record on San Francisco based Web of Mimicry recordings). Guapo's current line-up consists of Matt Thompson (bass, guitar, electronics), Dave Smith (drums, percussion) and Daniel O'Sullivan (keyboards, guitar, electronics). The first recording that this trio released was The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cerberus Shoal (2003). A drone-based piece which included Suvi Streatfield's contributions on cello, it was recorded as a split CD with Oregon based folk-manglers Cerberus Shoal, as part of a series on North East Indie, featuring wildly diverse collaborators (including Alvarius B from Sun City Girls). The Wire praised Guapo's progression: "Like some gigantic alien animal that has been prodded from slumber, their music stretches out to reveal an enormous and unimaginably complex musical monster that just keeps growing".
Guapo has continued to tour, playing with bands such as Fantomas, Kid 606, Oxbow, Tomahawk, Circle, The Melvins, Khanate and Ruins. The band's intense live show continues to progress and expand, as the influences heard on the records are thrown into the air and reassembled as an incendiary mixture of plate-spinning dexterity, telepathic instrumental interplay and extreme avant-noise. The concert performances can in fact be seen as a microcosm of the recorded output of Guapo, which continues to develop in unexpected directions and blend seemingly disparate influences into a cohesive whole.